How to figure out what you don’t know

Be a detective




Explanation or Description

Compare and contrast

Cause and



A synonym, or word with the same meaning, is used in the sentence.

The following signal words may be used to show synonyms: also known as, sometimes called, in other words, that is

My opponent’s argument is fallacious, misleading –

plain wrong.


The thief was elusive and avoided capture for many years.

What does elusive mean?

What word(s) gives away the meaning?

He realized that his carriage was important, so he walked proudly with his back straight.

What does the word carriage mean in this context?

What words give away the meaning of carriage?


Although the brothers had always been close, the fierce argument caused a rift in their relationship.

Neither one was willing to compromise.

What does the word rift mean?

What word gives you the clue to the meaning?


A word or group of words that has the opposite meaning reveals the meaning of an unknown term.

The following words are usually used with an antonym context clue: however, in contrast, even though, although, unlike, but, different

Although some men are loquacious, others hardly

talk at all.


Bob tended to make decisions impulsively, rather than planning in advance.

Define impulsively.

What words give away the definition?


The two of them are usually civil, but today they were quite impolite to each other.

Define Civil.

What words in the sentence give away the meaning

What words should we look for when looking at antonyms

But, however, although, except, rather


He tried to smile because the mood of the party was not somber, but happy.

If you can’t find anything to praise in the class, at least don’t denounce it.

His brother had been an A student, but Howard was just a mediocre student.

Although the chairman took twenty minutes just to introduce the main speaker, we were relieved to find that the she was concise.

Explanation or Description

Find the meaning in the sentence.

Definition or Descriptions

Look for appositives in a sentence.

Find words that describe things.

An aquarium needs scavenger fish, swimming garbage collectors, to keep the tank clean.

The blue and white amulet the tribes people wear is a charm intended to protect them against bad luck.

The soft bouncy surface cushioned his landing.

Definitions and Descriptions

The Indians taught the Europeans to preserve meat by making pemmican, cakes prepared from dried lean meat mixed with fat, a skill which saved many a trapper’s life.

Company representatives are usually reimbursed for their expenses when they make business trips; that is, they are repaid for money they have spent for the company.

Definitions and descriptions

You could see how repugnant the bitter medicine was by the way she shuddered and made a face as she swallowed it.

Many octogenarians, that is people in their eighties, are still spry and healthy.

Tom was known to be a cad, treating others without respect or kindness.


Words to look for: like, so, for example, including, for instance, such as

Eleanor donated to many philanthropic causes. Homeless shelters and foundations to assist orphans were among the recipients of her charity.

The salesman obviously wanted to

haggle, so we offered a lower price.

The local economy was based on a

barter system, so the doctor often was paid with fresh produce from the farms.


Greta shared many attributes with her sister, including traits like honesty and humor.

The surface was marred by deep scratches and gouges.

Compare and contrast

Words to look for:


Although, because

While the lecturer was very clear and logical in explaining her ideas, many of the students’ questions were vague and unfocused.

Cause and Effect

Knowing that Pete was a notorious

procrastinator where housework was concerned, his guest helped him to wash dishes immediately after lunch.


Many media were used in the artwork, including paint, colored pencils and crayons.

Many things we use as condiments in our food, such as pepper, curry powder, and paprika, cannot be grown in this country.

I could tell that he considered himself a

gourmet, not only by the way he enjoyed his food, but in the way he studied the menu before he ordered.


Unlike the desert tortoise, which is most active in the summer, the box turtle may be dormant in that season.

I don’t know how those suave and courteous parents could have two such crude and rude children.

If she would just get out and jog, she might cancel out the bad effect of a sedentary job.

The homes on the north side of the tracks were poor and shabby, but those on the south side were obviously affluent.


You don’t have to concur with what I say, but at least listen with an open mind.

The wharf is a busy place where everybody is pushing, pulling, turning, or hoisting something.

Mobile robots are used for dangerous tasks like handling hazardous material and disposing of explosives for police bomb squads.

This requires intensive therapy: Lots of tests, more shots, attention to how much you exercise, not to mention not stressing out.